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Reasons for Not Breastfeeding: Common Myths

Mom and newborn baby

During thirty-plus years in maternal-child nursing, mothers have told me many reasons for why they believe they can’t breastfeed, or why they don’t want to. More often than not, their reasons for not breastfeeding are based on myths rather than facts.

“My breasts are too small.”

Perhaps the reason I’ve heard most often is that the mother’s “breasts are too small.” Hmm. As a reason for not breastfeeding, it doesn’t make much sense. Why would small breasts have trouble making milk? If someone had small ears, you wouldn’t think they had trouble hearing, right?

The truth is: Breast size is not an indication of breast milk production, at all!

“My breasts are too large.”

Having larger breasts is not a reason for not breastfeeding. Certainly, there are some differences in breastfeeding for those with larger breasts. In a podcast with Robin Williams, MA, JD, IBCLC, of Bosom Buddies, we discussed strategies for successful breastfeeding with large breasts.

“It will hurt.”

It’s fairly common for new mothers to experience sensitive or tender nipples in the first few days after birth. This is usually a short-term situation. Sometimes, your baby isn’t latched correctly. If so, you need professional help. But you can have tender nipples in the first day or two even if the baby is well-latched. (That’s a short explanation, but I offer a continuing education online course that carries CERPs on this topic.)

In either of the above-mentioned situations, if you’re experiencing sore nipples after your milk “comes in,” seek professional help. But tenderness, soreness, or pain are not reasons for not breastfeeding

Older children will sometimes bite, but even then, breastfeeding should not hurt. There are ways to stop the biting.

“I’ve had breast surgery.”

Several decades ago, having a breast reduction would have meant that you could not produce much if any milk, but times have changed. In some cases today, this still may be true. But, having breast reduction surgery, or breast augmentation surgery, aren’t reasons for not breastfeeding.

First, talk with your doctor about whether your surgery altered your lactation-related structures. That may or may not shed much light on your situation. Next, get professional help from a lactation consultant who has experiencing with cases like yours. Finally, get Diana West’s book, Defining your Own Success: Breastfeeding After Breast Reduction Surgery. Diana is an IBCLC, and she has had reduction surgery herself. Her book has evidence-based and practical information, and some outstanding diagrams to help you understand your situation.

“I’ve body modifications.”

Indeed, body modifications do impact breastfeeding. Pierced nipples may mean that milk leaks out the side of the nipple, but it’s generally not a problem. Tattoo ink molecules are large and unlikely to transfer into milk. Bottom line is that you can breastfeed with body modifications. I can’t immediately think of why body modifications constitute reasons for not breastfeeding.

“My grandmother (or mother) told me …”

Some myths about breastfeeding have been handed down from generation to generation. (For example, some women have heard they need to “prepare” their nipples in advance by toughening them up with brisk rubbing of a washcloth or loofa. Ouch! Not true!) Others seem modern in origin, although it can be hard to know the original source.

Although some of the myths do include a kernel of fact, it’s always important to track down good, credible sources before making any breastfeeding decision. If you’re reading this blog (which obviously, you are!) or if you are listening to my podcast, or attended one of my courses, you’ve probably heard me say at least a dozen times: Women need to make informed choices. Informed choices are those based on facts — not myths!

These are the most common reasons for not breastfeeding that I’ve heard. I spend a good deal of time busting the myths and muzzling the misinformation about breastfeeding. I try to guide mothers I care for so they can disregard the myths and listen to the facts they need to know.

Informed decision-making is a major key to health and happiness. Be sure to listen to my podcast on the top reasons women believe they can’t breastfeed.

What reasons for not breastfeeding have you heard? Tell me in the comments below.

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  1. Judy Harden

    The most common problem I see is that women think they are not making enough milk and quit after only a day or two. This is often compounded in the hospital; nurses worry they’re not doing well breastfeeding and advise giving formula. It makes me CRAZY!

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Judy, I hear you, and it makes me crazy, too! (Well, crazier than usual!) I teach an entire segment on this, and basically, I address what I call the two-pronged effect: (1) Mother’s perceptions, e.g., they think they need to be full and leaking to have “enough”, they don’t understand that baby waking to nurse every 1.5 to 3 hours is normal, etc. etc.) AND (2) the staff does not know how to differentiate between reassuring and worrisome data where it comes to breastfeeding. Oh, I can feel my blood pressure going up just talking about this! But essentially, I’m saying, in many or most cases, the root of the problem is perception, not an actual problem. Sigh…

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